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Smathers remains free after second felony conviction

Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eight months after signing a confession that she stole nearly $4,500 in cash and merchandise from her employer, Stephanie Smathers pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree theft in Juneau Superior Court.

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Smathers, 20, acknowledged she began stealing from Gottschalks department store five months after being indicted on manslaughter charges in the August 2005 death of Jody Watson, who died in a two-car accident. Smathers, who was a passenger in one of the cars, later pleaded guilty in an agreement lowering the charge to criminally negligent homicide.

In the current plea agreement, the state decided not to pursue Tuesday's conviction as a violation of the legal agreement allowing Smathers to remain free until an October sentencing date for both the felony theft and homicide convictions.

"The state will not pursue the conditions of release violation," Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins said.

District Attorney Doug Gardner would not explain why Smathers remained free on bail when she had broken the law again after the original charge. He cited that her sentencing was coming up on Oct. 2. A general condition of release is that the person not break any laws.

Smathers stole $3,467 in cash and almost $1,000 merchandise in December and January from Gottschalks in the Mendenhall Mall. A security system caught Smathers' thievery on camera.

In court, Smathers told Collins she disagreed with the total dollar amount that records say she stole from the Mendenhall Valley department store. Tom Nave, Smathers' attorney, encouraged her to question the amount at a later date.

Smathers pleaded guilty to the felony theft charge before a grand jury decided if enough evidence existed to even pursue the case. She waived her right to a grand jury on Aug. 2.

In return for her change of plea, the state has agreed to a sentence cap of two years. Collins said under the typical guidelines, Smathers would have faced up to five years in prison for the charge.

At the time of the theft, Smathers had not yet been convicted of a felony. That came days later, when she pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Smathers and codefendant David Alex were fighting when the van he drove along Glacier Highway crossed into oncoming traffic at the Brotherhood Bridge and fatally hit Watson.

Alex pleaded guilty to charge of criminally negligent homicide in May.

Judge Collins set sentencing for both of Smathers' crimes at 8:15 a.m. on Oct. 2.

Nave attempted to move up Smathers' sentencing date one week, but Smathers declined, saying it would interfere with her 21st birthday plans.

• Contact Greg Skinner at 523-2258 or greg.skinner@juneaempire.com.



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